We recently leapt at the opportunity to test out a new build of the Xbox version of SVC Chaos: SNK vs. Capcom, a 2D fighting game originally released nearly a year ago for the venerable NeoGeo system. As you may know, SVC Chaos is basically similar to Capcom's own Capcom vs. SNK fighting games, which pit some of the two companies' best-known fighting game characters against each other. The difference is--and this is something that most 2D fighting game fans can easily recognize--whereas Capcom vs. SNK is reminiscent of the Capcom fighting game look and feel, SVC Chaos looks and plays more like a NeoGeo fighter (the King of Fighters series, in particular). That may sound great, though fans of 2D fighting generally acknowledge the NeoGeo version of SVC Chaos as something of a disappointment--mainly because it didn't live up to players' high expectations. Nevertheless, a port of the game is headed to the PlayStation 2 and Xbox later this month, and the Xbox version, in particular, is going to sport online play, which may be just the ticket to convince fighting game players to really get behind SVC Chaos.
The cast in SVC Chaos is a who's who of classic fighting game characters, though there are a number of odd choices thrown in seemingly just to mix things up. On Capcom's side of the fence, old standbys like Ryu, Ken, Guile, Chun-Li, and M.Bison are present, along with more-obscure Capcom characters like Street Fighter III: Double Impact's enormous Hugo (who first appeared as a bad guy in Final Fight) and Red Earth's witchlike Tabasa. On the SNK side, you've got King of Fighters favorites Iori Yagami and Kyo Kusanagi, along with Fatal Fury heroes Terry Bogard, Mai Shiranui, and Kim Kaphwan--plus weirder picks like Samurai Shodown's gi-normous Earthquake and Samurai Shodown 64's sprightly Shiki (who was one of the only cool things about that game). Our main complaint about the roster is its noticeable lack of grappler-type characters. Where's Street Fighter II's resident wrestler Zangief? Where's King of Fighters' judo master Goro Daimon? They're nowhere to be found, that's where.
Granted, there are a lot of fighters here. There are three-dozen characters in all, including several hidden ones. These are an interesting lot. Among them are Violent Ken, who's a counterpart to Evil Ryu, Orochi Iori, and other token, overpowered "evil" versions of characters that Capcom and SNK, at some point, decided would be cool to start including. There's also Goenitz, the arrogant last boss of The King of Fighters '96, and Dan, the wimpy, pink-clad Capcom fighter who was always intended to be a slight against the SNK fighting games' character designs. He's in here right alongside Ryo Sakazaki, the specific SNK character that he's poking fun at. If you're a hardcore fighting game fan, you'll undoubtedly appreciate this irony as much as we do.
You'll also appreciate how, if nothing else, all of the Capcom characters have been redrawn in SVC Chaos...finally. Some of Capcom's fighters have been recycling the same artwork and animation frames game after game for nearly a decade now, so it's great to see them with a fresh coat of paint, even though the actual results are not always necessarily impressive or improved. To put a finer point on it, the game's artwork is quite good, but the animation isn't always particularly smooth. And the dated NeoGeo hardware means you shouldn't expect anything other than an old-school look to this fighting game.
Frankly, you shouldn't expect too much from the gameplay either. It's pretty straightforward and borrows the most-basic conventions of the King of Fighters series, including a four-button layout (weak and strong punches and kicks) and the ability to dash forward by double-tapping on the D pad. There's nothing wrong with this back-to-basics approach, but SVC Chaos doesn't quite seem to get the feel of the action right. There's little feedback when a hit successfully connects, and when a finishing blow is delivered at the end of a round, the results are entirely anticlimactic, since there's no slowdown or any sort of dramatic flash onscreen. Furthermore, collision detection in the game seems pretty sketchy, as some moves just don't seem to hit right--a potentially serious issue for a 2D fighting game. These are things that can theoretically be addressed before the game ships, but since it's mostly just a port of an existing game, we aren't necessarily expecting any drastic improvements to the core gameplay. But here's hoping... On the plus side, the controls are responsive, and there's basically a competent combo system in here, as well as a good variety of moves per character. The game may not be a revelation, but its cast of characters and standard assortment of features make it suitable for fighting game fans.
Also, the game's sound effects are somewhat underwhelming, particularly with regard to the music. Character voices are new in some cases, or they're recycled from other fairly recent Capcom or SNK fighting games--and these are pretty good. However, the sounds of punches and kicks hitting home seem flimsy and lessen the impact of the action. Furthermore, despite the presence of several characters armed with bladed weapons (whose attacks other characters may readily block with their forearms--now that's training), there's no blood in the game. As a result, swords and knives seem to smack instead of cut. The game itself follows the strictest conventions of the genre. By default, it's a best-two-out-of-three-rounds match, and you choose just one character at a time.
Again, though, Xbox Live support is definitely going to add some appeal here (the PS2 version lacks online play). We tested out the online play internally, and for the most part, it worked as well as expected. We were even impressed to find a few interesting options, such as the ability to limit the cast of characters to just the SNK or Capcom side, for instance. There's also an option to disallow the use of color-edited characters, since it's possible to tweak your favorite characters' outfit colors in the game. One issue we had with the Xbox Live support is that there's no way to easily have a rematch with your opponent after one bout. Instead, you need to go through the quick match or optimatch process again. As for the game's offline modes, they include your standard no-frills arcade, versus, practice, and survival modes. There's also a gallery of images to unlock. The arcade mode features some nice textual exchanges between the various fighters to give just a wee bit of context to the proceedings, which is a lot better than nothing.
Ultimately, we're glad to see any and all online fighting games on consoles, especially if they include many of our all-time favorite fighting game characters. Though SVC Chaos might not turn out to have the same impact as some of the games that inspired it (especially coming in on the heels of the Live-enabled Capcom vs. SNK 2), we think hardcore fighting game fans will appreciate the opportunity to play it without having to fly to Japan or plunk down $300 for the NeoGeo version. Stay tuned for our full review, and for now, check out our brand-new